Alex Smith

Fighting loneliness and polarization in the UK by connecting seniors and young professionals to build new and lasting relationships

The Problem:

Social isolation is a national issue in the U.K., where nearly 1 in 5 people say they often feel alone. Seniors and Millenials are the loneliest groups: Living separate lives in anonymous cities, the elderly have narrow but deep roots; young professionals have wide yet shallow ties. That disconnect affects individual and civic health. It can depress civic activity, like voting, or drive political polarization—even contributing to Brexit, which exposed a stark gap in attitudes between globalized youth and sometimes more ingrained seniors. Two parliamentary bodies have focused on the issue; and in 2018 Downing Street created a Minister of Loneliness, tasked with drafting anti-loneliness policies and funding new programs to bring people together.

The Approach:

The Cares Family brings elderly neighbors and young professionals together to combat social isolation and polarization, connecting people to their changing communities and bridging generational, cultural, digital, and attitudinal divides in ways that can deepen civic ties, optimism, and engagement. Some 4,000 seniors and 4,000 young people have so far shared more than 40,000 hours in social clubs, buddy programs, community fundraisers, and grassroots outreach across three community networks (North London, South London, Manchester). Both groups report now feeling more tied to their communities and more appreciative of each other and of the wider world. Part of a larger, transatlantic movement for intergenerational connection, Cares works especially hard to strip the “charity” aspect from its work, instead emphasizing two-way, cross-age relationships, treating seniors not as victims to help, but as people with contributions to make for communal good.

My civic hero:

Eugene Warren, an 85-year-old New Yorker I worked with for a year, who helped rejuvenate his city through business and community.


Updates

Face to Face with the Fellows: Alex Smith

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